Food Service & Agriculture, Real Estate, and Small Business & Startups

BBQ joint rolls into a permanent location

Daddy Pete’s opens physical restaurant after years of operating as a food truck.

December 16, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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Daddy Pete's BBQ
Cory and Tarra Davis poured the proceeds from their food truck sales at ArtPrize into a storefront location on Eastern Avenue SE. Photo by Michael Buck

Growing up, Cory Davis called his father Daddy Pete.

The only problem was his father’s name was James; Pete was a name that stuck when James Davis came north for work. Today, Cory Davis, and his wife, Tarra, operate Daddy Pete’s BBQ, a food truck and restaurant, 2921 Eastern Ave. SE, named in his honor.

His father had a multitude of jobs: working for the Grand Rapids Press, an adjunct faculty at area colleges and a foreman at General Motors. To blow off steam, he’d use his 11-foot long barbecue pit to smoke 20 to 40 slabs of ribs at a time.

“In the south, if they don’t know your name, they call you Pete,” Cory Davis said. “It stuck with him and as an outlet, because he did so much, he would barbecue, and now, that’s what I found as an outlet.”

Cory Davis found barbecue to be a good way to relieve the stress from his former day job as a caseworker for the state of Michigan, maintaining between 800 and 1,000 cases annually.

Enough people asked for Davis’ smoked meats that the push to start a food truck seemed like a good idea. The food truck was started a little more than three years ago.

“When we started the food truck, our goal was to remain debt free,” said Tarra Davis, who has worked in project management and development with companies such as Amway and Steelcase and, most recently, with New Hope Baptist Church. “We didn’t have a pre-existing restaurant and had different careers, so banks weren’t jumping out of the gates wanting to fund us. If this is what we want to do, we’ll do what we have to do to make that happen.

“That’s how we’ve made everything happen, by our own bootstraps.”

With the food truck, Daddy Pete’s had to shut down for the winter, leaving customers hungry during the frigid months. For the first several years, finding a suitable location for the restaurant was difficult, as ordinances require a specific distance away from residential space if using a commercial smoker.

This year, prior to ArtPrize — regularly one of the food truck’s most fruitful times — the space where the restaurant now is located opened up. The Davises knew the property owner and had discussed the business plan with him when they were starting up, but discussions for a physical location fell through.

The property owner then posted the location on Facebook, and customers began tagging Big Daddy Pete’s.

“A week before ArtPrize, we come to look at the space, and we’ve been working in a 12-foot truck, so walking into a 1,200-square-foot place, it was immediately, ‘We have to do this,’” Tarra Davis said. “Very last minute and it wasn’t on our immediate time line, but it’s worked out great.”

Just as with the food truck, the entire restaurant was self-funded. That includes the licensing and equipment, more than double of what goes into a food truck, Cory Davis said.

“Everything we got from ArtPrize, we poured into this,” he said.

Tarra Davis said the couple loves to eat and started as foodies; the menu is developed from foods they love. “If we don’t like, we don’t serve it,” she said.

The menu is cooked in the traditional Texas “low and slow” method, Cory Davis said, over apple and peach wood. Brisket cooks on the rotisserie smoker for 18 hours, while pork butt sits for 13 hours. Patience isn’t as much a requirement with ribs and chicken, which take approximately three-and-a-half hours.

Daddy Pete’s also packages its BBQ sauce, partly because of space when the cooking was restricted to the food truck.

The restaurant was named Grand Rapids Area Black Businesses Emerging Black Business of the Year in 2015 and is one of the GRABB 5, a partnership between GRABB and Start Garden to help accelerate five black-owned businesses in Grand Rapids.

“The question of ‘underserved’ populations is really a question of ‘unconnected’ populations. Lack of funding is not the only problem. We have to overcome the systemic problem which stems from a lack of relationships with people who don’t look like each other, and GRABB 5 is designed to understand and overcome those barriers,” Start Garden President Mike Morin said. “Since our founding, Start Garden has committed itself to expanding economic growth in West Michigan by increasing the financial, intellectual and social capital in the region.

“By taking small risks on capital, we can greatly expand opportunity for people in our region.”

With both Cory and Tarra Davis full time in the barbecue business, sometimes they look back fondly at the stability of their former careers, but the positives from the entrepreneurial endeavor make it all worthwhile.

“There are days that we are like, ‘What in the world are we doing?’” Tarra Davis said. “But when we feed the customers and they give us the feedback, it gives us the push to keep going.”

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